The Winnipeg Jets and Columbus Blue Jackets were in the same situation. Both teams had players who didn’t want to be there anymore. Both teams needed to move these assets, and in the end, they came to an agreement to exchange problems in order to better themselves. The Blue Jackets traded Pierre-Luc Dubois and a third-round pick to the Winnipeg Jets for Patrik Laine and Jack Roslovic.
Why Are The Canadiens Linked?
Many in the hockey community linked Montreal to the young center. The Canadiens were looking to move up at the 2016 draft to select him because they lacked serious long-term talent and depth at the center ice position. This was before they acquired Philip Danault, drafted Jesperi Kotkaniemi and traded for Nick Suzuki.
The interest came back most recently when it was made public that Dubois had asked for a trade and rumours circulated that the Habs were interested. Why wouldn’t they be? A big, young, skilled center from Quebec was available and would most likely help the Canadiens for many years to come; but at what cost?
For one, the Canadiens would have to involve one of their top three centers in order to have a spot for Dubois in the lineup. Nick Suzuki was never going to be available in any deal. Marc Bergevin made it clear that he is one of the most important players on the team and Claude Julien sees a Bergeron-like center in Suzuki, who he formerly coached in Boston.
Philip Danault would also not likely be in this deal because he was not what Blue Jackets GM Jarmo Kekkalainen was looking for in exchange for Pierre-Luc Dubois. Though Danault is among the top defensive centers in this league, he is older than Dubois by five years and has already reached his prime and peaked in terms of his ceiling. Therefore, the main piece would need to be Jesperi Kotkaniemi.
Kotkaniemi has shown a lot of growth from his postseason bubble performance to the first couple of games this year and it has brought optimism in his development. He has been very good in his own zone, often intercepting passes and stopping the cycle, and has also been dangerous while in transition. He looks a lot more comfortable out there. Does Kekkalainen see the same thing?
Regardless of the optimism, Kotkaniemi doesn’t have nearly as much value as Laine. Therefore, a prospect would have to be involved. Many speculated that Cole Caufield would have been a potential addition. Alexander Romanov is another prospect that many GM’s covet, but he was deemed untouchable.
Then we look at players like Jonathan Drouin, who would offset Dubois’ cap hit, but he has regained his playoff magic with Nick Suzuki and it wouldn’t make sense for Montreal to move him and for Columbus to acquire him in this deal. Paul Byron is the only player the Canadiens would include in a cap dump due to his recent decline in value and his unattractive contract.
Even if Montreal could make it work value and cap wise, for example packaging Kotkaniemi, Caufield, Byron and a draft pick as well as Columbus retaining a small percentage of Dubois’ cap hit; do these assets going to Columbus for the same package that went to Winnipeg make Montreal that much better right now and down the line?
I don’t think so.
Dubois is a great player, and though he is physically superior than Kotkaniemi and might also be a better offensive player at the moment, Kotkaniemi has never had quality offensive wingers until this year with the signing of Tyler Toffoli. We can’t make that assumption before we see what he can do with proper help. His involvement on the power play, and possibly on the penalty kill, will also reveal if he can play a complete 200-foot game that many expect out of him. It’s trending that way.
Furthermore, the loss of a top prospect such as Cole Caufield, who every GM seems to want in a trade, would have a negative impact, possibly as soon as next year. With the cap staying flat and five players playing on the final year of their contracts, it would be wise to insert a prospect or two, if deemed ready of course, into the lineup to possibly offset the loss of a player. With just over $15.5 million in cap space and important players like Philip Danault and Tomas Tatar needing new deals, as well as Nick Suzuki and Alexander Romanov just one year away from being restricted free agents, entry-level contracts would go a long way to help. You can’t put in quality prospects if you trade them away.
Continuing with Caufield, even though the team has depth on the wing, there isn’t one player or even prospect who matches Caufield’s talent as a goal scorer. None of Gallagher, Anderson or Toffoli posses the type of shot, accuracy or offensive skillset that Caufield has, and therefore, the prospect we’ve heralded as a future 40 goal scorer would come and go like the wind.
Adding to all this, Dubois is on a two-year deal at a $5 million cap hit, which means he’ll get a raise soon. Kotkaniemi won’t cost as much. He could be controlled financially for longer with a small bridge deal, thus delaying a possible “cap crunch.”
The Habs would have more time to make room under the cap. Not only would they not invest too much money at the center ice position in the short term, but they could possibly maintain a complimentary piece like a Tomas Tatar or manage to retain Philip Danault.
Moving all those pieces just to upgrade at a position that doesn’t need one isn’t smart in my opinion. Nick Suzuki seems to have the 1C spot locked down. Kotkaniemi is trending towards locking the 2C spot soon.
If Danault wants to stay at a salary that both the team and he can agree on, he has a spot in the lineup. The Canadiens never needed Dubois nor should they give up such a package for a short-term boost. We’re expecting Kotkaniemi to end up being what Dubois is now.
Pierre-Luc Dubois is one heck of a player. He will fit in with the Winnipeg Jets and make them a much better team moving forward. They now have a player who can fill a hole, which saw players come and go. With all the praise he gets, so should the two young Canadien centers.
Both are progressing and project to lead Montreal to continuous success. We don’t truly appreciate the potential of a 1-2 punch of Nick Suzuki and Jesperi Kotkaniemi. Marc Bergevin will likely have to adjust and tinker with the surrounding cast, but one thing he should let develop are the two youngsters who will help lead the way.